Much of the coverage of Google focuses on its domestic priorities–its rivalries with Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, its friendship with Verizon, its interest in net neutrality. But less well covered has been the tech giant’s efforts overseas, particularly its focus in the past few years on expanding Internet usage in places where it trails, like Africa and the Middle East. Google just scored a coup in moving those efforts forward–by hiring Ushahidi’s founder and director to become its manager of policy in Africa.
You may know Ushahidi as the open-source platform for crowdsourcing information, created following the 2007 Kenyan elections as a way for people to report incidents of violence. The woman behind it was 33-year-old Ory Okolloh, a Harvard-trained lawyer who had previously created a site to monitor corruption in the Kenyan legislature.
Though she’s most famous for her work on Ushahidi, Okolloh has also worked as a corporate lawyer for an organization that supports entrepreneurs in South Africa. She once turned down a six-figure gig at Covington and Burlington because, she told a TED audience, her passion lay in her home continent, and that was where she was needed.
Neither Google nor Okolloh would comment on the appointment, but Okolloh told ReadWriteWeb that she’ll be “working to get more people online and policies favorable to that, also (cultivate) support for local content and an environment which supports innovation.” On her own blog, Kenyan Pundit, Okolloh said: “The role will involve developing policy/strategies on a number of areas of relevance to Google and the Internet in Africa and will involve working with different parties including government leaders, policy makers, regulators, industry groups and so on.”
Google’s interest in Africa is not new. Its Google Africa Blog launched in the summer of 2008, it developed tools designed for the unique needs of people living in the sub-continent, and it’s tried to spur the development of “locally relevant digital content.” And last year it began its G-Africa Initiative for software developers, marketing professionals, and entrepreneurs.
Still, connectivity in Africa trails that of other continents, with little more than 5% of the population online as of three years ago. Which means Okolloh will have her work cut out for her. Indeed, when asked by the Guardian recently where the web will have the most impact in the next 10 years, Okolloh answered, “No question: Africa.”